the onion field

WANTED,” the ad began, “onion peelers: must be fast and well presented”. My heart did a little skip as I translated. Labourers sought for tearfully tedious production line work – must look good. Here, surely, was a story.

The decrease in classified advertising – the drying-up of the so-called rivers of gold – has had a profound effect on the newspaper industry.

But it’s not just the loss of classies’ revenue we journalists who still have our jobs have cause to regret

The classifieds yielded many a yarn and not a few mysteries. Who hasn’t read the classifieds and wondered? Was the size 20 wedding dress never worn because the bride lost weight or the would-be groom before she reached the alter?

Behind the lineage-rate induced haiku there were stories in the For Sale, Wanted, and Lost & Found columns.

Like the urgent appeal for concrete or tyre swans made by someone seeking to secure one of these sirens’ of ’50s kitsch for the celebrated author Sonya Hartnett.

Or the conscience-stricken woman who bought ads to try to track down a shopkeeper she’d stolen from 17 years earlier and make recompense.

Before the mobile became ubiquitous, criminals used the classifieds to place coded and, sometimes, not so discreet messages, like the armed robber who announced his return to business with the ad: “Badness is Back”.

The most profound and pivotal human experiences – births, marriages and deaths – have traditionally been telegraphed to the world through the classifieds.

Hemingway once said the best story he wrote was just six words: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

That’s a slam-dunk classified or I don’t know my onions.


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